WATERTOWN — By the age of 18, Grant D. Robinson’s substance abuse had escalated to the point of using cocaine every day, as well as drinking. He enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school to escape, but over the years, his use morphed to injecting substances like heroin daily.
In 2014, he ended up in prison, where he took state training and became a peer, teaching other inmates how to read, helping with GED high school equivalencies, and working in an alcohol and substance abuse program.
When he got out in 2017, he had a recurrence of use and ended up in a hospital bed dying of liver failure with a septic knife wound in his hip. He recovered and was discharged, then went back to rehab before heading to a halfway house, where he started training to become a recovery coach.
Mr. Robinson moved back to Watertown with his father in 2019 and is now making “living amends” to him in his recovery, while also seeking to give back to his community.
Now, Mr. Robinson is a certified addiction recovery coach, certified recovery peer advocate and nationally certified peer recovery support specialist.
Formerly the community liaison for ESPRI-SOR through Pivot, Mr. Robinson has a private practice as his primary business and will be officially launching the Northern Recovery Initiative LLC by the end of the month with his business partner, Leo Gilbert III. Mr. Gilbert’s technical position will be the manager of the LLC.
Trained in White Plains, a wealthy area where people with his qualifications can make hefty salaries, Mr. Robinson wanted to come back to his hometown and bring cost-effective, professional recovery coaching — outside of agencies — to the north country.
“Being in recovery, coming back and doing something like this, it’s tremendous, more than a privilege or an honor,” Mr. Robinson said. “This is my home, I love this place and I’d like to be able to improve based on the things that I wish I could have had access to when I was in my addiction, that would have made a huge difference in my life.”
Mr. Robinson likens recovery coaches to physical therapists, there after initial treatment ends to see people through recovery. He said his lived experience provides him with a lot of insight into the local community, direct empathy and an understanding of the culture as well as the needs of the area.
To be a recovery coach while in recovery himself, Mr. Robinson has had to go through a lot of training specifically for countertransference. If he sits down with somebody, he can’t put himself in a position to be triggered by their trauma or what they have going on — he needs to be healthy as well. He said there are a lot of good training programs and tools that helped him so he doesn’t have to take his work home, so his recovery and work are separate.
“What I do to stay sober myself has nothing to do with my job,” he said. “My recovery helps my job, my job in a way helps my recovery because to stay successful in my recovery, I need purpose. This gives me purpose.”
Initially, with Anchor Recovery Center, Mr. Robinson was hired under a contract to be a recovery coach and thought to himself that he should start his own business if he was going to be a contractor. The idea then in 2020 was to offer unique, discreet services through his private practice.
He initially had a few high profile clients, marketing toward military officers, correctional officers and others who might not want themselves or their family members to have insurance noting that they’re getting treatment.
“They might want intervention that’s very discreet, someone that can come and walk hand in hand with them or their family member that wouldn’t involve them having to go and be very visible,” Mr. Robinson said. “If I’m an attorney, I wouldn’t want to be sitting in a waiting room with half my clients.”
Mr. Robinson said he has clients in St. Lawrence, Montgomery, Albany and Westchester counties, and never really knows where he is going to get a call.
While working at community agencies, people would present problems to him often, saying they wanted to go into treatment, but didn’t know who would take care of their pets or that their leases would end while they were away receiving treatment. Some people would not have transport to probation, social services or the recovery center itself as Medicaid transport only covers medical appointments.
“There’s a lot of things a person needs to be successful in recovery, certain appointments have to be met or there are repercussions and the recovery will go down the tubes,” Mr. Robinson said. “I began offering service-by-service property transfer from halfway houses or treatment centers, assisting clients’ family members pack bags, letting people know what they would need for treatment, getting people to various forms of aftercare. And that’s how it kind of morphed, I said I’m gonna do this a little bit different so I can maintain my practice for the professionals, and I’m going to offer another set of services for anybody.”
The way those services were designed was to be like a gym membership where anyone in recovery can say what various appointments they have, whatever they may need, and it all goes into their individual plan, which they can pay for with a monthly fee based on need and income. The LLC offers a sliding scale fee and does not charge insurance at this time. The LLC will formulate a recovery plan and measure the costs, and the clients provide a monthly fee out of pocket.
“The idea is to make sure it can fit anybody,” Mr. Robinson said. “If somebody misses their methadone dosing transport call and they need a last minute cab ride to CREDO because it’s minus 20 out and they’re across the city, if that’s part of their recovery plan, part of the arrangement we made with them, we’ll go get them. And it won’t add anything past their normal monthly fee, whereas they might pay $15 to $20 for a cab ride to and from.”
The LLC is set up for a co-coaching approach. Having two recovery coaches allows for either Mr. Robinson or Mr. Gilbert to physically go into places with people if needed. Perhaps somebody is nervous to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for the first time, so they could walk in and sit down with them and go to the first couple meetings. They could go to court with somebody, go to their social services appointments and provide on-site advocacy. This is person-centered care, Mr. Robinson said. People decide what they need to be successful and the Northern Recovery Initiative will help make it happen.
With Mr. Gilbert a 30-plus-year veteran of the clinical side of things, having worked at St. Lawrence Addictions Treatment Center, CREDO and other facilities, and Mr. Robinson trained and coming from the recovery side, their idea is twofold. They want to keep providing special services to professionals who are in recovery, but also to fill the area’s void, so to speak, when it comes to serving others in recovery in the community.
“Treatment ends, eventually a person will meet all their treatment goals and insurance will no longer foot the bill, but recovery is for life,” Mr. Robinson said. “Addiction is a fatal progressive illness, it’s chronic. It has no cure. A person has to maintain that. So what do they do? You can’t go to a traditional outpatient treatment center for the rest of your existence, there has to be a cost-effective side for the long-term recovery, and also capable of bringing people back into treatment if the recovery should falter.”
Though the Northern Recovery Initiative officially launches on Oct. 31, Mr. Robinson already has people in mind that could benefit from it and hopes to be able to work with the agencies that he’s already worked with many times, both on the receiving end and as a provider.
He noted that he was at a care management agency a couple weeks ago and they needed to get a client to probation, but they didn’t have any case managers available and Medicaid transport won’t cover a non-medical appointment. In that situation, they could have called him, he said, and he could have worked with that individual and gotten them from point A to B.
Along with Mr. Gilbert, Mr. Robinson is working with a few volunteers and students who are with him for professional development, including one waiting to go into the recovery coach academy and one who has already been through it. Mr. Robinson is assisting them through the national credential process.
The private practice is already affiliated with the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. To be insured, Mr. Robinson’s people have to have a very specific credential which lets them operate outside of state lines. The NAADAC code of ethics is strict and clear, to avoid questions about ethical conduct or policy and provide the best possible services. The credential requires a minimum of two years’ recovery attached to that.
“Seeing those letters after our peers’ names automatically means that these people have not only demonstrated extraordinary competencies educationally, but they are also very much stable in their recovery,” Mr. Robinson said. “That’s very important to me that we provide the absolute best service and living proof.”
Mr. Robinson said he hopes to grow in the future and be able to provide resources in terms of lessening the barriers between people and recovery and people in treatment, and bringing together both.
Right now the continuum of care is prevention, like stopping kids from getting into substances in the first place; then treatment and coalitions, groups of community agencies that work together to provide direct community responses; then recovery. Recovery is long-term, so Mr. Robinson said he’d like to see all involved with each type of care start working together on smooth transitions.
“Recovery coaching, I always explain like this: we’re in the dark,” Mr. Robinson said. “I hold the flashlight and you’re gonna tell me where to point the light, and that is always how it is. The person will tell me exactly what they want or need to be successful and I do my best to help them get it.”